From biscuits to cakes – how the NHS ‘healthy-eating’ app promotes junk food ‘linked to cancer’

An NHS ‘healthy eating’ app is actually promoting life-threatening junk food, activists claim.

The healthcare food scanner aims to tell users how good a food is for you based on the product’s barcode.

The NHS Food Scanner app reveals ultra-processed foods are a'good choice'


The NHS Food Scanner app reveals ultra-processed foods are a ‘good choice’Credit: Taking from The Biscuit/Soil Association

But research found the app – which has been downloaded more than 500,000 times – regularly recommends highly processed foods like cookies and cakes.

Studies show that ultra-processed foods, which include ready meals, carbonated drinks and white bread, increase the risk of dying from cancer by up to 30 percent.

Cathy Cliff of the Soil Association charity, which conducted the investigation, said the fact that the app actively promotes it is “almost criminal”.

She said: “We are shocked to see that the government is not only ignoring the health risks of ultra-processed foods, but is actively encouraging families to consume them.

“It seems the government is more concerned about corporate profits than children’s health.

“When every penny counts, it’s almost criminal that families are tricked into wasting money on junk food that fills you with nothing but health risks.”

She added: “It’s wrong for fizzy drinks and chips to be advertised to children. The government takes the biscuit.

“We urge you to stop the crap – stop telling families that ultra-processed foods are a good choice and show true leadership in helping us all eat better.”

Ultra-processed foods are products made with ingredients or cooking methods not found in a typical kitchen.

These include chemical preservatives and additives, and the foods tend to be high in salt, sugar and fat, making them more likely to cause heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Most of the food eaten in the UK is ultra-processed, accounting for almost two-thirds of the under-14s’ diet.

The NHS Food Scanner app was launched as part of the NHS Better Health campaign alongside Couch To 5K and the NHS Quit Smoking app.

It allows users to scan barcodes on products to see how much fat, sugar and salt they contain and to give products that fall below a certain threshold a Good Choice badge.

Which ultra-processed foods are ranked as healthier choices in the NHS Food Scanner App?

The following foods have been recommended as healthier by the NHS Food Scanner App:

  • McVitie’s Rich Tea Biscuits
  • Pot noodle lost
  • Pepsi Max Cherry No Sugar Cola
  • Alpen Light muesli bar chocolate and fudge
  • Kingsmill Blueberry Pancakes
  • Monster energy drink without sugar
  • Mr. Kipling Bakewell Sponge Discs
  • Aero chocolate caramel bubbly mousse
  • Jacob’s Mini Cheddars Nibbles
  • Richmond Sausage Hotpot

Source: The Soil Association

However, this does not take into account the degree of processing the products have undergone.

Research by the Soil Association – which campaigns for sustainable agriculture and healthier food – asked 17 parents to test the app on products their kids like.

It found that 104 foods were awarded the Good Choice, Healthier Choice, or High-5 go go green badges.

However, 80 percent of it is highly processed, the charity said.

The list included McVities Rich Tea Biscuits, Lost the Pot Noodle, and Pepsi Max Cherry No Sugar Cola.

Ms Cliff said: “Many of the products given the thumbs-up by the NHS Food Scanner App are unhealthy, ultra-processed foods and drinks, sold by some of the UK’s most popular brands.

“With junk food producers that have been awarded the Good Choice badge, it is unforgivable that a public health campaign sometimes benefits food businesses more than it does families.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Diets high in ultra-processed foods are also high in calories, sugar, saturated fat and salt, leading to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.

“The Food Scanner app helps families see what’s in their food and drink and offers a selection of products that can help them reduce sugar, saturated fat and salt, including alternatives to family favorites like cookies, chips and carbonated drinks.

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“We’re always striving to improve the app experience, including expanding and personalizing messaging around different food and beverage categories, and we welcome feedback from parents and organizations to help us in this process.”

NHS England has been asked for comment. From biscuits to cakes – how the NHS ‘healthy-eating’ app promotes junk food ‘linked to cancer’

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